WASHINGTON – The White House on Thursday, June 4, endorsed a requirement that U.S. railroads install new safety equipment by the end of 2015, despite bipartisan efforts in Congress to give passenger and freight rail companies extra time to comply.
Administration support for the deadline could lead to a showdown with lawmakers in Congress over the safety equipment known as positive train control, or PTC, which federal officials say would have prevented the deadly May 12 Amtrak derailment in Philadelphia that killed eight people and injured more than 200.
Republicans and Democrats have introduced different pieces of legislation to extend the deadline. A measure giving railroads until the end of 2020 to comply with the safety requirement was approved by the Senate Commerce Committee in March and moved to the Senate floor for a vote.
HARTFORD, Conn. – Federal transportation officials and the Metropolitan Transportation Agency have agreed on a nearly $1 billion federal loan to install technology that could slow trains when necessary on Metro-North Railroad and Long Island Railroad.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said Wednesday the Federal Railroad Administration and Metropolitan Transit Authority agreed on a $967 million loan to install Positive Train Control technology. It automatically slows the train if the operator or a malfunction places it in jeopardy.
Aaron Donovan, a spokesman for the MTA, said Metro-North and the LIRR are putting in place the system, which includes installing on-board components for 1,455 rail cars and transponders.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced April 24 that the Federal Railroad Administration has approved a loan of $967.1 million to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority for the improvement of the safety of the signal systems used by the MTA’s two commuter railroads, the Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North Railroad. The loan, which is the largest and lowest-cost financing for the MTA, will finance the installment of positive train control, a technology designed to remove the potential for human error that can lead to train-involved accidents.
“This loan is a dramatic investment in the MTA – one that will make trains safer for all riders on Metro-North and the LIRR,” Gov. Cuomo said. “With this infusion of funding, crews will be getting to work on individual cars and along hundreds of miles of track to install state of the art technology that can save lives. This loan could not have been possible without the hard work and support of U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx and Acting FRA Administrator Sarah Feinberg, and I thank them on behalf of all MTA commuter rail customers for helping us make this important advancement possible.”
MTA Chairman and CEO Thomas F. Prendergast said, “We are delighted to have been able to work with the Federal Railroad Administration to make this historic, and extremely important award possible. The most important thing we do each day is strive to ensure the safety of our passengers, our employees, and the public at large. This award will help us enhance that effort in a very significant way.”
Positive train control is a technology that allows computerized systems to automatically control certain aspects of train movement. It is intended to prevent train-to-train collisions, trains accidentally traveling into areas where track workers are working, or derailments caused by excessive train speed or the movement of a train through an improperly aligned switch. The technology can address situations like the Spuyten Duyvil derailment in the Bronx, where a train was going faster than its maximum allowable speed. Congress mandated the installation of positive train control in 2008 for all commuter railroads in the U.S.
Metro-North Railroad and the Long Island Rail Road are in the process of implementing the technology, which includes the installation of on-board components for 1,455 rail cars and transponders alongside 588 route miles of track. In November 2013, the MTA awarded a contract to a joint venture of Bombardier Transportation and Siemens Rail Automation to act as a systems integrator that will provide the design, furnish equipment and ensure that the system functions as intended. LIRR and Metro-North forces and some third party contracts will support installations of wayside, office, communications and on-board equipment. Installation of positive train control on Metro-North territory in the State of Connecticut will be funded by the Connecticut Department of Transportation.
The loan is the largest to have been made through the FRA’s Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing Program and remains subject to MTA Board Approval on April 29 and final closing in May. The MTA will issue its Transportation Revenue Bond directly to the Federal Railroad Administration and will repay the obligation over 22½ years at a fixed interest rate of 2.38 percent. MTA’s Transportation Revenue Bonds are rated “AA-” from Standard & Poor’s, “A2” from Moody’s, and “A” from Fitch.
U.S. Rep. Charlie B. Rangel said, “Nothing is more important than ensuring the wellbeing of New Yorkers. I applaud Governor Cuomo’s commitment to improving safety measures on Metro-North and LIRR, so that all commuters in our great State can ride knowing they are in secure hands.”
U.S. Rep. Eliot Engel said, “MTA services are an indispensable part of my constituents’ everyday lives. Thousands of commuters rely on the MTA daily to travel to work, home or school. They expect – and should receive – a safe train ride. Implementing positive train control is a critical step making this expectation a reality. The tragedies that occurred at Spuyten Duyvil in 2013 and in Westchester earlier this year may have been avoided if this life-saving technology had been in place. While we cannot assuage the pain and grief that these accidents have caused, we can make every effort to create a better railroad moving forward. I applaud the DOT and the Federal Railroad Administration for recognizing the need for this technology in the MTA system, and am very pleased that all rail travelers can experience a safer ride.”
U.S. Rep. Nita Lowey said, “I’m pleased that MTA’s application to install positive train control technology has been approved by the Federal Railroad Administration. Securing this funding would help ensure that disastrous events like the December 2013 Metro North accident never happen again. Over the last year, I have worked tirelessly to highlight the need for additional resources to help commuter railroads install PTC, and I will continue to work with federal and state officials to ensure that MTA gets the resources it needs to keep its riders safe.”
U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks said, I’d like to thank Governor Cuomo for prioritizing the modernization and improvement of the Long Island Railroad and Metro-North Railroad’s 1500 railcars and hundreds of miles of track along our country’s busiest commuter rail system. This unprecedented investment of nearly $1 billion in the LIRR and Metro will improve safety for riders public, transit workers for decades to come.”
U.S. Rep. Steve Israel said, “This federal loan is a vital step to improving railway safety. I applaud the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and Department of Transportation on their hard work to secure this loan, and I will continue to fight for federal resources for critical New York infrastructure.”
The MTA is close to securing final federal approval of a nearly $1 billion loan to install technology on its commuter trains that could have prevented the 2013 Metro-North derailment in the Bronx in which four people died.
Positive train control technology provides a new layer of protection in case of human error, since it can automatically slow or stop a train.
Metra’s board on Wednesday approved two large contracts, including one for $80 million to help implement a high-tech safety system that federal officials said would have prevented two Chicago derailments that killed two people and injured scores of passengers.
The other contract, for $707,000, was awarded to a consulting firm that will advise Metra on strategic planning, including evaluating possible new service and stations.
Members of the Senate Commerce Committee yesterday voted to approve the markup of a bill that would extend the deadline for affected rail companies to implement positive-train-control (PTC) technology until Dec. 31, 2020, instead of the current deadline that would require implementation by the end of this year.
In addition to the five-year extension, the legislation introduced by Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) would give the U.S. Secretary of Transportation the discretion to grant one-year extensions after the proposed 2020 deadline, as long as those extensions expire by Dec. 31, 2022.
The SMART Transportation Division, in conjunction with Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO, issued the following statement on the U.S. Senate markup of a Positive Train Control (PTC) extension bill:
“A five-year extension of the deadline by which Positive Train Control (PTC) technology must be implemented cannot be considered in a vacuum or in isolation. Rail employees, first responders, and communities have witnessed too many deadly freight and passenger rail accidents in recent years, including those involving the transport of crude oil and other hazardous materials. While the causes of these accidents vary, we know that passing long overdue safety reforms – not just simply delaying implementation of PTC – will make rail transportation safer.
“We unveiled a plan outlining measures that Congress can implement in order to improve both passenger and freight rail safety. That plan includes mandating at least two qualified crewmembers on every train; addressing chronic fatigue among rail employees; and requiring use of common sense technology such as alerters and shunting. We also released reforms to make hazardous materials transportation safer, including a call for better support and training for first responders and stronger tank car and inspection standards.
“A blanket five-year extension of PTC is the wrong approach. We understand that some of the reasons for delay in implementing PTC are outside the control of the railroads, but these companies could have done more to meet this mandate. Any extension should be of shorter duration and considered on a case-by-case basis while requiring carriers to submit a plan for how they will meet an extended deadline.
“At a time when the safety of rail transportation is gaining much-needed attention, it makes no sense for the Senate to only move a bill that delays implementation of life-saving technology without considering comprehensive safety reforms.”
U.S. Sens. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) and John Thune (R-S.D.) yesterday introduced a bill (S. 650) that proposes to extend the federally mandated deadline for positive train control (PTC) implementation by five years from 2015’s end to Dec. 31, 2020.
The bill was referred to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation.
A Dec. 31 deadline for railroads to equip all trains with crash-avoidance technology known as “positive train controls” won’t be extended, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said Feb. 11.
Testifying before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Foxx said his department is “continuing to hold the industry’s feet to the fire in getting PTC done as quickly as possible” instead of allowing “a blanket extension.”